M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Four Early Katherine Mansfield Stories

"Silhouettes" 2 pages, 1907
"The Tiredness of Rosabel"-9 pages, 1908 i
"The Journey to Bruges" 8 pages, 1909  
"How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped"  9 pages, 1910

Katherine Mansfield is either the best or the second best (to Virginia Woolf) female writer of short stories.   Mansfield's stories (I have now read and posted on 30 of them) are wonderful works of art that manifest enough intelligence to see through a dozen masks at once.  

Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) first began to publish and be paid for her stories at age 18 while still living in New Zealand.     I think "Silhouettes" (1907) is her first published story.    Thankfully it is online at the Katherine Mansfield Society Web Page .    (Their web page is great resource for anyone interested in Mansfield.)    After her death Mansfield's husband John Middleton Murray published a collection of her earliest stories, Something Childish and Other Stories (1924).     Mansfield first met Murray through publishing one of her stories in a journal he edited.    The great New Zealand Electronic Text Center has the full text online.    There are twenty six stories in the collection.  

"Silhouettes", one of her very first published stories, is very brief and is of interest partially because she wrote it.       It does show her descriptive power and reflects already the sensuous quality of her latter work.


And I, leaning out of my window, alone, peering into the gloom, am seized by a passionate desire for everything that is hidden and forbidden. I want the night to kiss me with her not mouth

Say what you want about the prose, this is not something too many 18 year old women wrote 102 years ago.

"The Tiredness of Rosabel"   (1908) begins to show the power of Mansfield.     Based on my limited reading so far,   Mansfield seems better able to develop working class characters than Woolf.    Rosabel is a sales clerk in a fancy hat shop.   Most of the clientele who come in look down at her and she accepts this as natural.   One day a very handsome young man comes in with a lady friend about the same age as Rosabel and no better looking than her.    The woman is clearly very spoiled and difficult to  please but at last agrees to accept as a gift hat costing more than a month salary for Rosabel and she promises the man she will wear it at least once.    As Rosabel leaves work for her small forth floor walk up apartment she begins to imagine she is the girl friend of the man after he asks her on  the sly if she had ever been painted.    Mansfield enters beautifully into the fantasy world of Rosabel as she creates an elaborate vision of a society wedding.  

"How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped" (1910) is a strange story in that  left me initially puzzled as to what happens to Pearl Buttons.    Upon a bit of reflection on the use of the name "Pearl Buttons" I think we are to see Pearl as very young Maori girl who was kidnapped by slavers.     It was the custom in New Zealand at the time to give "comic names" to Maoris that were used as house or field servants and I think this would have been common knowledge by readers of this story.    Mansfield shows a keen awareness for colonial issues in this story (and elsewhere).

"The Journey to Burges" (1909) is the story of a young woman traveling alone on a short sea voyage from England to Burges in Belgium.     A young woman traveling alone is the frequent lead character in Mansfield's stories.   The fun in this story is in the passing observations on the fellow passengers.     Mansfield could be wicked!

I am perhaps one third of the way through my first reading of Mansfield's short stories.    Some of  the most highly regarded of her stories are yet to come.   I have also read some of her notebooks and her very neglected poetry.   Latter I will probably read at least Claire Tomalin's biography of Mansfield and perhaps others as well.

Mel u












2 comments:

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds fascinating. I find so many books that I have never heard of from you.

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